Long Box Truths

Twenty years ago you could find comic books on news stands in bookstores, spinner racks in grocery stores and convenience marts, and even three packs in various toy and department stores. (I can pretty much tell you each and every place where I purchased all my individual issues.)

A lot’s changed since then.

Comic books are much harder to find. In fact, these days, you actually have to seek them out – either at a big book store or a LCS (local comic shop). And that’s really sad.

Mainstream comic books don’t sell the way they used to. A best-selling comic book sells on average in the 40,000 to 50,000 range these days. Twenty years ago, with numbers like that, the series would have been deemed a poor seller and cancelled.

What am I getting at?

I don’t claim to know the definitive answer for why floppy comic books aren’t as popular as they once were. I think distribution is probably one factor. Increased prices ($2.99 for a 24 page mainstream, mass produced comic) may have something to do with it, too. Another factor may be the increased popularity of trade paperbacks, which collect 6 or so consecutive issues into one book.

Please note: I don’t think COMICS are less popular than they used to be. Online comics, for example, are HUGE – and there is a sustainable market for purchasing printed comic material – even when you’re giving away the content for free on your website (like I do).

But I think the standard 24 page formatted serialized comic may be a dying breed…

What are your thoughts on the dwindling sales of comic books? Are comic “floppies” still viable, or are they on their way out? Do you buy and read comics? If you haven’t lately, why not?

Sound off in the comments below! :)


These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • InkTankReply
    April 20, 2010 at 12:21 am

    TPB (Trade Paperbacks) are TOTALLY the bane of the monthly title. With the current prices or monthly books getting into the $3.00 to $5.00 range, most folks are willing to wait for the TPB to get a six issue run for $12 to $15. $20+ for a full on hardcover compilation of quite a few issues.

    Bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders are more likely to carry TPBs and even some comic book shops are giving more shelf space to the better selling TPBs.

    I have about 20 to 30 short boxes (half long boxes) of late 70s to early 80s comics. A lot of which are now availabe in collections and TPB “novels” (Watchmen, Dark Knight, Camelot 3000, Mage, etc.) no one wants to deal with tons of single back issues anymore and retailer don’t want them unless they are particularly worthwhile (first apperance of a big character, autographed, etc.)

    I got a bid recently to by my comics for a nickle a piece and I am seriously considering it. The “comic legacy” I planned to pass along to my kids could easily be fit in a handful of shortboxes in TPB form.

    And as a more mature collector, I know I can wait until an event run or a few issues to pick up a TPB of my favorite series. Leaving me a much smaller (and less expensive) monthly pull list of only the most die hard series and/or new things that look interesting.

  • Daniel LangenakkerReply
    April 20, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Having them harder to get is definitely correct, at least as I it because the only place I can find them outside a proper comic store which there isn’t any around here is in the news agent and even then its just a tiny amount that’s probably not up to date

  • Damien HirschReply
    April 20, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Yeah commics here in australia are very hard to come by, i was getting deadpool then it become harder and harder to get

    very annoyed

  • Lynn K. FletcherReply
    April 20, 2010 at 7:49 am

    I like comics. And I’m a girl. What I’m getting at is that seeking out the comic books at local comic shops is difficult for me. It’s like you have to be in the scene in order to be taking seriously.

    For example, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman which is currently being sold in the Absolute volumes. When I went to a local shop to see if they had the third volume, the owner went ballistic.

    He told me that it wasn’t worth the money to collect them and that I was silly to want to. As a person who doesn’t normally frequent this man’s store I was insulted and left without buying anything.

    And that’s a shame. If he had spoken with me a bit longer and figured out some of my other likes, he could have pointed me toward other comics I would have loved. Instead, I was punished for my tastes and chased out of the store. How do you build up an addiction to comics when you can’t even hang out in the store?

    If comic books were just sold in grocery stores, etc. I could discreetly find out what I like. Instead I turn to the internet and enjoy the comics here. Love PC Weenies and appreciate that you put McPedro from Girls with Slingshots on Bob’s comic book in the last panel. :-)

    Other than buying my Sandman online, the only physical comic books I own are from webcomics.

    • krishnaReply
      April 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

      Danielle Corsetto is an awesome person, and I dig her comics. I was hoping that folks would notice the McPedro reference :)

    • Theala SildorianReply
      April 21, 2010 at 7:59 am

      I’ve had that experience, too, Lynn. In fact, I don’t go to the comic book store where I live now, because the owner and his employees are elitist asshats. It’s a shame; the store I used to go to in California was run by a great husband and wife team who loved comics, but most importantly loved their customers. Wednesday became a ritual for me. not anymore :(

  • AntoineReply
    April 20, 2010 at 7:58 am

    This book store surely love PC-Weenies and Uncubed! :P

    Ok, floppy comic books: To be honest, I never got any as a kid or teenager. Main reason: I wasn’t bilingual back then. So I’ve always focused on French Comics, which doesn’t use the same format.

    And honestly, I’m only starting to read US comics, and obviously, the TPB format is totally best suited for me today. I haven’t read a lot, Watchmen was the first, then I followed with The return of the Dark Knight, recently, I read Civil War. I’m still a rookie at it and still reading french comics too :P

  • Scott GallatinReply
    April 20, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I took 90% of my comics out of the plastic and gave them to my kids.. I’m betting it pays off in the future.

  • hariReply
    April 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

    To be honest, I never have *got* American comics.

    Having said that, I read a lot of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha back then, and I think I still have fond memories of them (I don’t know whether you would have been exposed to them in the US though!)

    And of course Asterix and Tintin.

  • krishnaReply
    April 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Amar Chitra Katha’s and Tinkles – I remember reading those on my visits to Chennai many years ago. I still have all my Amar Chitra Katha’s somewhere. Asterix and Tintin are some of my favorites.

    American comics are good too – there are a lot of fantastic independent comics you should check out – including BONE, by Jeff Smith and anything by Wally Wood or Will Eisner.

    • Daveed V.Reply
      April 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Belgium (where Tintin is from) still has a thriving comics culture. You’ll find dozens of different series in medium-size grocery stores, and hundreds of them in larger supermarkets or bookstores. (Asterix’ author — Uderzo — is French, but also uses the ligne clair style and worked a lot with Belgian magazines, including Bravo and Spirou.)

      I’ve long wished I could find the Belgian (and French, and Dutch) comics in the U.S.

  • wdwillisReply
    April 20, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    i’ve been a marvelite since the early 80’s. i’ve always loved the fantastic four, the xmen, the avengers, spiderman, and plenty of other titles they have come out with over the years. in the mid 90’s, i stopped buying comics.
    this coincided with having sold off most of my collection to pay for things like a car, school, and rent… along with having a less disposable income due to becoming an adult.
    right around 2000 i started discovering web comics, and they sustained me for several years. right up untill the marvel civil war.
    a friend from work was relating some of the storyline of the MCW, and i decided it was time to go back.
    i picked up several tpb’s, and found a couple dvds (40 years of xmen, 40 years of FF) which tied together HUGE chunks of storyline into pdf’s i could read on the pc.
    i am happy to say, i have amassed a good deal of my former collection in tpb’s, and digital editions. but i see where these are indeed killing the market place for monthly titles.
    as a collector, i would never have bought a tpb, but as a reader/consumer they make lots of sense.
    i think there will still be a place for monthly’s for some time, due mostly to collectors, but i think in time, marvel as well as many others i am sure, will phase out monthly’s, and focus on quarterly editions to save money on distribution/printing.
    as a consumer though, i have to take a stand. spiderman currently has some 5 titles out a month. some of these are published 2-3 times a month.
    alltogether, there are about 12 spiderman comics to grab in a given month, at about $3 each. thats nearly $40 a month, on just spiderman. that used to cover my whole marvel monthly pull. thats just too much to try and keep up with for the average reader i think, and part of the decline in readership.
    i think marvel is selling roughly the same number of comics a month as always, it’s just they have so very many more in print at a time, that they can not sell as many each per title as previously.

  • AngeloReply
    April 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I’m hoping that the introduction of Digital Comics on platforms like the Ipad and Iphone will help stimulate floppy book sales.
    Comic stores have their core, loyal fans and the people who’ll be downloading issues will most likely be new comers who aren’t heading to the stores anyway. So I think the impact of digital comics will be a positive one, hopefully bringing accessibility and sparking interest in those that never gave comics a try.
    Now if only comic shop owners were better at getting people into comics rather than being elitists. We wouldn’t get situations like the one that Lynn experienced. (It’s stupid to think that if you’re running a business that you’d talk people out of buying a book that they’re interested in.)
    I know I’ve successfully converted several people into comic readers. It’s simply a matter of spreading the word. People simply don’t know about comics.
    With the comic movies coming out (by the thousands it seems), and the big deal being made about comic reader apps, comics are being more widespread again. Hopefully it will garner enough interest to get people to check out their local comic shops. Such as (shameless plug) READ MORE COMICS…
    115 East Brandon Boulevard
    Brandon, FL 33511-5255
    (813) 655-7838

    Anyways, I’m cautiously-optimistic for the floppy book future.

  • AAReply
    April 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I’m one of the people @Inktank mentions … I really like comics, but the fiscally responsible side of me can’t justify the cost when I can get a Trade (usually with bonus material and with a more durable cover) at a lower cost. My interest is to read them not to collect, so this works for me.

    I will buy a floppy here or there to sample a comic that looks appealing. But, I’ve found fewer comics in print that I really enjoy. I will like the art or the storyline/writing, but rarely both. I find webcomics much more frequently that have an aesthetic I like as well as a good storyline.

    Making the effort to go to a comic shop deters me as well. By the time I return to a shop, the floppy I was interested in reading has moved on and there are issues missing, so I don’t bother to collect. Or, I’ve forgotten which ones I even liked (sad state of my mind, but true) A friend of mine owns a shop in a different state so he’ll recommend comics here or there for me .. but even as a shop owner he sometimes has trouble getting the issues I want .. so, I go back to waiting for the trade and just purchasing that instead. (:

  • wdwillisReply
    April 20, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    i worked in a store which was really awesome about being cool with newbies.
    unfortunately, thats not the majority of stores i have been in. a lot of them sort of almost require you to pass a test before they decide you are worth actually trying to sell to, and develop a decent buyer/seller relationship with.
    half the reason i go to b+n or borders, or just shop amazon for trades is because of that attitude. i haven’t found a store here in omaha that doesn’t have it, and frankly, not being 12 anymore, i don’t feel like dealing with it.
    it’s why i mostly just get the official dvd’s of pdf’s now.

    but something i did fail to acknowlege earlier, reading a comic on the computer will NEVER compare to a stack of real comics by your bed ona sick day… or comic store day. i really miss comic store day.

  • AdamReply
    April 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I don’t buy individual issues just TPB (then I don’t read that many comics). In the UK comics are still sold in most places where magazines and newspapers are sold, even small convenience stores or petrol stations; just don’t expect a wide selection. Luckily there are a few comic book stores not too far from where I live (20-30min in a car) so I can go get some if I want. And May 1st is “Free Comics Day”!

  • InkTankReply
    April 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I must say, I predict a day (perhaps no too far off) when monthly titles are available digitally only. And collected TPBs are the only paper “comics” sold in retail stores.

Tell me what you think!